Steamboat Minnehaha Added to National Register of Historic Places, Seeks New Launch Site

Steamboat Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka in 2014.

The streetcar steamboat Minnehaha, a longtime icon of the Lake Minnetonka community, was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places on Friday, October 29. Administered by the National Park Service, the National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.

Minnehaha’s listing in the National Register opens up grant opportunities to preserve the boat and gives her the recognition she deserves,” said Tom McCarthy, president of the Museum of Lake Minnetonka, the organization that owns, maintains and operates the vessel.

In 2019, Minnehaha lost access to the ramp where she was launched and hauled out of the water each spring and fall, restricting her ability to be on the lake until a new ramp becomes available. Minnehaha is currently housed in a heated storage facility in Excelsior. Volunteers continue to maintain the vessel on a weekly basis, keeping her ship-shape for her eventual return to Lake Minnetonka.

“The MLM remains committed to returning Minnehaha to the waters of Lake Minnetonka,” said McCarthy, adding that the organization has a newly reconstituted leadership team in place. “While no property on Lake Minnetonka meeting Minnehaha’s unique launch requirements is currently available, we welcome any opportunity to work with public or private partners to secure a site for Minnehaha’s new launch ramp and winter home – both of which will be crucial to getting her back in the water since Minnehaha must be stored indoors during the winter.”

When asked if Minnehaha will be operating on Lake Minnetonka for the 2022 season, McCarthy said it looks unlikely. “Our primary task at the moment is to secure a site for a permanent launch ramp and winter home for the boat – she cannot go back in the water until that has happened.”

When asked if there are any prospective sites that could accommodate a new launch ramp and winter home for Minnehaha, McCarthy said there are several sites around the lake that would work. “The previous leadership team evaluated sites in Excelsior, Wayzata, Tonka Bay, Mound, Spring Park, Minnetrista and Shorewood,” he said. There are several sites that remain viable options, but we’re going to need strong municipal and community support to proceed forward with any of them.”

When asked about how fans and supporters of Minnehaha could help save the historic steamboat, McCarthy said there are many ways to help, including donating or becoming a member of the MLM at steamboatminnehaha.org, contacting local/municipal leaders to tell them how important Minnehaha is to the community, and simply spreading the word about the situation. “This is going to be a community effort,” he said.

About Minnehaha

Built in 1906 as an extension of the Twin Cities’ streetcar system, Minnehaha provided fast and reliable transportation for the tourists and residents of Lake Minnetonka for twenty years. At 70 feet long and nearly 15 feet wide, she operated on scheduled routes alongside five identical sister vessels called the Express Boats. Since they closely resembled the Twin City Rapid Transit Company’s trollies, residents often referred to these boats as “the streetcar boats.”

The popularity of automobiles and improved roads in the area ended the streetcar boats’ viability in the 1920s. With no further use in sight, Minnehaha and some of her sisters were scuttled (purposely sunk) in 1926 and lay forgotten at the bottom of Lake Minnetonka for more than five decades.

In 1980, a salvage team located the wreck of Minnehaha and raised her back to the surface. Following a $500,000, volunteer-driven restoration, Minnehaha returned to passenger service in 1996 and operated continuously on Lake Minnetonka until 2019. The restored Minnehaha provided rides for an average of 10,000+ passengers each year she was in service.

2019: Year In Review

Photograph of the steamboat Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka.

Dear Minnehaha supporters:

It is hard to believe that another beautiful season of steamboating has already passed into history. 2019 was the restored Minnehaha’s twenty-fourth year on Lake Minnetonka. Despite less-than-ideal weather on many weekends, ridership was good with about 8,000 passengers sailing aboard Minnehaha from late May to early October. This was only possible because of the persistent support received from the community and the dedication of our 70+ volunteers. The following is a recap of just some of the highlights from the past year.

Per usual, the first part of the year focused on Minnehaha’s winter maintenance. Every Saturday, a group of about ten volunteers met at “the barn” to work on various projects. Work this year included repairing the genset cooling system, replacing drains, repairing seats, and regular painting and wood repair. Thanks to the dedication of our winter maintenance crew, Minnehaha was ready to be launched by mid-May.

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How Was Minnehaha Allowed To Be Raised?

Photograph of the salvaged Minnehaha on August 30, 1980.

By Aaron Person

One of the most common questions that Minnehaha’s passengers like to ask is if there are plans to raise any of the other streetcar boats from the bottom of Lake Minnetonka. The simple answer is “no.” There are many reasons for this; aside from the logistical and economic obstacles that would have to be overcome, it is also illegal. According to the nonprofit Maritime Heritage Minnesota, shipwrecks at the bottom of any lake in Minnesota are subject to several laws at both the state and federal levels, including the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act (1963), the Minnesota Historic Sites Act (1965), and the Federal Abandoned Shipwrecks Act (1987), among others. These laws prevent shipwrecks from being looted or otherwise disturbed, let alone raised. They were enacted, in part, because submerged resources risk being damaged or destroyed if they are raised without proper care.

Many would be surprised to learn that Minnehaha was indeed raised illegally in 1980. So, how was it allowed to happen? The situation was rather complicated.

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10 Myths About Lake Minnetonka History

By Aaron Person

Have you ever heard the story about the Excelsior Amusement Park roller coaster being moved to Valleyfair? Or maybe you’ve heard that John Philip Sousa and his band played at Big Island Park. Lake Minnetonka’s history is grand, but some of the tidbits that you’ve likely heard are not true. This fall the MLM started an ongoing series of posts on the Steamboat Minnehaha Facebook page called #MythbusterMonday. The series’ popularity has exceeded all expectations, having reached more than 34,000 people thus far. In case you missed it, here are 10 myths about Lake Minnetonka history that we “busted” in 2019.


Big Island Park steam ferry Minneapolis

Myth #1: Minnehaha and her sister streetcar boats regularly serviced Big Island Park between 1906 and 1911.

The truth: Minnehaha and the streetcar boats rarely stopped at Big Island Park. In reality, the park was primarily serviced by three side-wheeled ferries named Minneapolis (pictured), Saint Paul, and Minnetonka. Each were originally 108 feet long (later extended to 139 feet) and could carry up to 1,000 passengers. They were also double-ended so they didn’t have to turn around after each crossing between Excelsior and the park.

Bonus truth: The three Big Island ferries only sailed between Excelsior and Big Island Park. While the Saint Paul and Minnetonka were scrapped sometime after Big Island Park closed in 1911, the Minneapolis was purposely burned to the waterline and sunk in 1912.

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An Update On Minnehaha’s Status

Minnehaha
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Bipes)

Earlier this year, the MLM received notice that Minnehaha will no longer be granted access to the privately-owned launch site at 600 West Lake Street, Shorewood after December 31, 2019. The launch site is only used twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, for the sole purpose of launching and hauling Minnehaha in and out of the water. Since this is a critical component of Minnehaha’s operation, a new launch site is needed.

Minnehaha is typically launched in the water in May and hauled out in October. While in the water, she is stored at a leased dock slip on Excelsior Bay (687 Excelsior Boulevard, Excelsior). The MLM is guaranteed to keep this slip through 2023.

During the winter months, Minnehaha needs to be stored indoors so that she can be properly preserved and rehabilitated. Minnehaha is currently stored in a large pole barn structure at 140 George Street, Excelsior. This structure is owned by the MLM but sits on land owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority.

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2018: Year In Review

Photo courtesy of Mahogany Bay

Dear Minnehaha supporters:

With Lake Minnetonka currently frozen over, it is hard to believe that another beautiful season of steamboating has already come and gone. 2018 proved to be a strong year for Minnehaha as 10,500 passengers sailed aboard her between early June and mid-October. This would not have been possible without the persistent support received from the community and the dedication of our 75+ volunteers. The following is a recap of just some of the highlights from the past year.

May 5, 2018 was one of the latest ice-out dates ever recorded for Lake Minnetonka. This pushed back the start of Minnehaha’s season by a week, but the extra time was used to finish various winter maintenance projects. The annual meeting was held only a few days later on May 9. At the meeting, Jeff Schott was elected as the MLM’s new president. Mr. Schott replaces Jeff Lambert, who served as president since 2013.

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Remembering Jim Ogland

By Jim Zimmerman

Jim Ogland

On July 12, 2018, the Museum of Lake Minnetonka lost one of its dearest friends. Jim Ogland was an integral force during Minnehaha’s restoration and served as the restored vessel’s first captain during her lake trials in 1995. A dedicated Lake Minnetonka historian, he passed away peacefully at the age of 87. His full obituary can be viewed here.

MLM Vice President Jim Zimmerman spoke at Jim’s funeral. The following is a transcript of his speech.

“It’s a great personal honor to be able to speak at Jim Ogland’s celebration of life. And what a life we’re celebrating! His was an extraordinary life, exceptionally well lived.

“If you knew Jim well, you know he wore a lot of hats. You will hear a lot about his hats and roles, but I’m here to talk about this hat. It’s a captain’s hat from the steamboat Minnehaha, which was one of Jim’s passions. And he was the very first person to wear this hat.

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South a ways: Bracketts Point and the Rise and Fall of the Pillsbury Estate

By Aaron Person and Joanie Holst

Photo courtesy of Wayzata Historical Society

This article originally appeared in the Wayzata Historical Society newsletter The Telegraph. It has been republished here with permission from the Wayzata Historical Society.

Like many other spots on Lake Minnetonka, the peninsula we know today as Bracketts Point has gone by many different names in its long history. Also known as Promontory Point, Starvation Point, Printers Point, and Orono Point, to name just a few, it was eventually named after its most well-known settler George A. Brackett and his wife Annie Hoit Brackett.

George and Annie Brackett first visited Lake Minnetonka on August 18, 1858 for a picnic and day of fishing and camping with friends. It wasn’t until 1880 that the Bracketts returned to Lake Minnetonka to purchase the peninsula between Browns Bay and Smiths Bay. Mr. and Mrs. Brackett gave it the name Orono Point and built a modest cottage at the site. The name Orono was important to George Brackett, as he had left his home of Orono, Maine to come to Minnesota in 1857. It wasn’t until 1930 that it was renamed Bracketts Point in his honor.

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2017: Year In Review

Steamboat
Photo courtesy of Mike Dinndorf
Dear Minnehaha Supporters: Another year of Minnehaha’s distinguished career has already passed. 2017 brought us a number of hardships, but we prevailed and ended the season successfully with a total ridership of 8,800 passengers. Fun times were had and much business was taken care of, and new friends were made while others are remembered. The following is a recap of just some of the past year’s major events. The season started in an unfortunate way. While the sale of the former Bayview property was pending, access to Minnehaha’s home dock and utility lines was limited. This led to the cancelation of cruises during Memorial Day weekend. The issue was thankfully resolved after the new owners completed the purchase, and by early June Minnehaha was able to begin operating as scheduled. Continue reading »

Archives Update

By Aaron Person

Archives

2017 was the year that the MLM finally established a proper archive for its collection of photos, videos, documents, blueprints, and memorabilia. The idea to do this began many years ago, but it was daunting. Volunteer Kathy Newman started the effort by moving the archives to their current location in 2013. Finally, in 2015, an official Archives Committee was formed (members included Aaron Person, Sherry White, Helen Sears, Dave Peterson, Chris Wolf, and Juli Englander). Over the next year the Archives Committee met with and received tours from representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Hennepin History Museum, and other organizations to learn the proper basics of archiving.

By 2016 the committee had decided that it would be best to hire a professional consultant for the initial phase of the project. With the expertise of volunteer Helen Sears, the committee received a $9,157 legacy grant from the Minnesota Historical Society for labor and supplies expenses. The committee interviewed three candidates that October and ultimately hired Rachel Garrett Howell as the consulting archivist. Work could finally begin!

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